*Plants information is listed after the Animals. Each list is in alaphbetical order.
Antelope were formerly an important food source for the Arapaho. The antelope were hunted, using a game-drive system.
Like other animals, the antelope was admired for certain qualities, and charms were made from parts of the animal, in an effort to obtain the same qualities for the one who wears the charms.
Much like young antelopes, which must be able to get up and outrun predators as soon as possible, an amulet of antelope horn worn by a child was intended to make the child grow up and learn to walk quickly. The same was used to help horses run faster.
Another special use of Antelope was its hide. Buckskin clothing made from antelope hide was reserved for chiefs and special occasions.
The badger is considered an especially powerful animal because of its command over both the space above the Earth, and the space below it. The badger is ceremonially important in the Sun Dance ritual. Because of its digging ability, it is said to be the possessor of all the medicinal roots that grow below the Earth.
Like the rabbit, the badger gave itself to humankind at the time when the Sacred
Flat Pipe was obtained. He said, “I am always on the alert during the night, and my ways are such that they are leasant; besides, I have strength and endurance against evil. Oh yes, my habits are meek and humble.”
Occurrences of black bears in stories suggest that the bear is slowwitted. This is found to be the case in a story in which a trickster kills a bear’s cubs and feeds the cubs to the bear in a stew.
The bear is also seen as vaguely malevolent, as in a widely known story of a bear who chased a girl and her six brothers, clawing his way up what is known today as evil’s Tower and leading the children to transform into the seven stars known as the Pleiades.
The grizzly bear’s paw and claws are an important symbolic and mythological motif. Bear’s paws and claws were an important source of power, and were used in various tribal and private ritual objects.
The bear-paw icon was associated with Whirlwind Woman, an important figure involved in the creation of the world. An area of Rocky Mountain National Park (Stones Peak, Mt. Julian, and the intervening Hayden Gorge) was known as ‘Bear’s Paw’ in Arapaho (wox se’eihtoo).
The buffalo are believed to have originally come out of a hole in the ground. They were made to do so by a mythical father-figure, who also made the first bow and arrow. His twin sons were also important cultural heroes who passed on much knowledge to the Arapaho.
During the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Arapaho said the buffalo were chased back into a hole in the ground by the white man. The Northern Arapaho say that this occurred somewhere in Wyoming, with one account giving the area around Bull
Lake (now in the Wind River Reservation) and another suggesting the area around
Ceremonially, the buffalo is central to the Sun Dance, with a buffalo skull playing a central role in the main lodge, and a buffalo robe being central to the Rabbit Lodge ceremonies, which precede the Sun Dance.
The origin myth records that several animals gave themselves to humankind. These animals include the turtle, the swift fox, the eagle, the garter snake, the badger, and the rabbit. The seventh of these animals was the White Buffalo who gave its whole body for the exploit of the Arapaho.
The Eagle and the White Buffalo are depicted as the two central animal mediators between the Arapaho and the Spirit World.
All of the traditional Arapaho ceremonial lodges (age-grade ceremonies) are said to have been given to the Arapaho by the buffalo, a female buffalo in particular. The womens’ ceremonial lodge is referred to as the Buffalo Lodge, and it in particular was given by a white buffalo cow. An Arapaho woman who vowed to sponsor the ceremony when it was performed is called the White Buffalo Woman (bii-hisei, nooku-bii-hisei)
The three stars of Orion are called “buffalo bulls” (heneecee-no’) by the Arapaho.
An entire book could be written on the uses of the buffalo in Arapaho life, and another book could probably be written on its spiritual and mythological significance.
The coyote is very important in Arapaho life and legend, and is often a helper-figure who comes to the rescue of humans. In one story, the coyote rescues Friday (the 19th-century Arapaho who was raised and educated partially by whites, and became an influential chief and interpreter) and leads him to safety.
Another similar story tells of a young Arapaho boy taken captive by the Apache.
He was let loose by them, but faced death attempting to cross hot, dry lowlands on his way home. The coyote arrived, and taught him how to find water, make fire, catch food and avoid the enemy, and eventually lead him back to his people. The boy acquired the gift of being able to speak to and understand the coyotes when they howled - a valuable skill which he used to help his people.
Arapaho would raise young coyote pups and keep them as pets, and the coyotes would then help the Arapahos with hunting.
The coyote also is found in many Nih’oo3oo (trickster) stories, where he is often a rival to the trickster, succeeding in tricking him in turn. In these stories the coyote rarely acts in gratuitous, inappropriate and excessive ways like classic tricksters - he is simply wise and clever.
The crow is the messenger from and guide to the world beyond.
The crow was and is extremely important in Arapaho ceremony. The Crow Dance, which was a later derivation of the Ghost Dance, featured the crow as the central emblem. Crow feathers were widely used in both the Ghost and Crow Dances for making ceremonial items.
In Arapaho mythology and legend, the deer is associated with women and romantic desire. One story tells how a man saw a woman, and pursued her. Just as he caught her, she changed into a deer. She ran away, leaving him dumbfounded. This same story is referenced by elders today as a way of criticizing one who gives excessive attention to a task, job, or hobby.
Deer were hunted using whistles made of bone or wood, which sounded similar
to the call of a deer.
Because the eagle flies higher than any bird, it is seen as the most powerful. Eagles feathers were widely used decoratively and ceremonially.
When the Arapaho are fasting and praying, either as part of individual vision quests or as part of larger group ceremonies, they beckon the eagle with prayers and wishes.
Bone whistles, made of the hollow wing bone of the Eagle, are blown to imitate the eagle’s call, as a way of communicating with it. The bird then calls back its response to the fasters. Such whistles are never blown in non-ceremonial contexts.
Eagle-wing feathers are associated with the Sacred Flat Pipe as well. The corner wing feathers - the shortest feathers on the wing, closest to the bird’s body - were used by the original creator of the Earth. The Eagle donated these feathers (called hee3-iii onward or chief weapon’ more literally ‘forward direction-plume’) and the creator pointed with them to form the mountain ranges to the west, and the rivers running down from the mountains, and the earth was then covered in green grass.
The Eagle donates his whole body at the time when the Sacred Wheel is created: “I am a bird of great flight and besides my body is pure and holy. It is spotless in appearance. You may know that I have strength and power. In view of the facts above-mentioned, I desire to be used for symbols of the Old-Men, and that my whole body may be utilized at all sacred rituals.”
An imitation eagle’s nest, along with the Buffalo skull and robe, is the most important animal icon used in the Sun Dance. It is placed in the Center Pole, and dancers look at it as they dance. Eagle-wing fans are also important in the Sun Dance, as well as Pow-wow dances.
To capture an eagle they are trapped on high ridges and mountaintops. After undergoing the proper ritual purification, the trapper would dig a pit, and then cover it with sticks and grass. A piece of meat was placed on top of the trap, and sometimes even a stuffed coyote skin. When an eagle landed, the person below had to reach up and pull the eagle into the pit by the legs. It was then wrapped in a blanket and either taken back to camp (if young) or killed by strangling or breaking the neck - never by cutting or stabbing.
An Arapaho story tells of a man who was wondering who was the king of the birds. He was sitting on a hill, and he was thinking to himself about how to answer this question. The two choices were the eagle and the falcon.
He finally decided that the eagle was the king, as it soared around high above him. As he sat thinking this, a falcon came diving down and struck him on top of the head, killing him. Thus, the falcon is the king of the birds.
In the myth of the origin of the Flat Pipe and the Earth, fresh water was created in a little hole. Once created, a flock of geese landed in it - they had been flying all around the world looking for fresh water.
They circled into the hole and drank four times. The geese were the first creatures to use the fresh water, and afterward people followed them to the water. Fresh water always flowed from that time onward.
The otter was considered an especially powerful animal because it had power over both the land and the water. Its skin, when used in ceremonies, could represent the entire Earth because of this dual habitat. The skin was widely used in both tribal and personal sacred and ritual items.
Otter-skin was especially favored for making wraps for braids. The softness of otter skin was believed to symbolically “soften” or prevent injury from attacks.
As in many cultures, owls are associated with spirits and ghosts. The Screech Owl is in particular, due to its eerie call.
Some scholars suggest that the connection between owls and spirits was the reason for the use of owl feathers on Ghost Dance objects. Screech owl feathers were also attached to rattles so that, by a common principle of Arapaho traditional thought, the feathers of the ghost would drive away ghosts.
Owls were also associated with the Arapaho age-grade ceremony called the Crazy Lodge. The Crazy Lodge men, during the ceremony, were expected to do the opposite of all normal social rules, and engaged in walking on fire as well as “talking backward,” meaning that one would say the antithesis of what one actually meant.
They used owl feathers in their regalia, and wore a headband with owl feathers attached. As long as they wore this, they were “crazy,” but when they went into someone else’s tepee during the ceremony time, they removed the headband, which allowed them to act normally.
Porcupine quills were the most important and sacred item used for decorating. The quills were used in clothes, blankets, tepees, and other items.
The Arapaho Quillwork Society was a sacred society of seven older women, each of whom had a sacred quillworking bag. The quillwork designs were closely linked to sacred and mythological motifs, and complex ritual knowledge was required in order to properly use these designs and undertake the production of quilled items.
The designs were traditional, and controlled by the members of the Society on behalf of the entire tribe. One could not simply do quillwork of his or her desire, or invent new designs. The last of these women died prior to World War II, and quillwork is no longer done by the Arapaho. A few years ago, a Sioux woman offered to teach the techniques to Arapaho women, but the elders decided that undertaking the work would be too dangerous, since the Arapaho have lost the sacred ritual knowledge that needs to accompany the work.
When the moon enticed the human woman up to the heavens in mythological times, he did so by taking the form of a porcupine. This is the widely known story of “The Porcupine and the Woman who Climbed to the Sky.”
Everyday uses for the porcupine included tails used as hair-combs and the quills to pierce ears.
Rabbits are associated with the Rabbit Lodge (nookhoowu’), an important part of the Sun Dance ceremony.
They are thought to be peaceful, pure, and innocent. These qualities are prayed for during the Rabbit Lodge ceremonies. When the rabbit gave itself to humankind it said, “I am innocent, gentle in many ways, soft in my words, happy in company and elsewhere, and in every possible way intend to give kind and sympathizing advice. Furthermore, my entire body is clean and soft, yet strong.”
Rabbit-foot necklaces were worn to prevent the Ghost Dancers from becoming tired. These charms would also help horses run faster.
Rattlesnakes played a symbolic role in the Dog Lodge and the Women’s Lodge.
One treatment for a snakebite is to chop off the snakes head, dry and powder it, mix it with the dried blood of the snake, and add pepper and medicinal root. This mixture was sprinked on a cloth, which was used to abraid the bite area until it bled. Then the cloth was tied around the area, a piece of lard was put on top, and a hot stone was used to keep the area warm.
Skunks are linked to traditional medicinal practice. Skunk oil (from the scent glands) is used to treat earaches. For example, it is dropped into the ear, and then sometimes a warm rock or similar heat source is held close to the ear.
Medicine men also made medicine bags out of skunk skins.
The spraying of the skunk was linked in Arapaho thought to the spitting of medicines by the doctor onto the patient.
There is a story that says the bear represents the approach of the disease, while the skunk represents the medicine man. The bear and the skunk met on a road, and fought over who would possess it. The skunk sprayed the bear, chasing him away, and took possession of the road. The stripe on the skunk’s back represents that road - possessed by the powers of healing rather than illness.
The treatment for getting sprayed by a skunk, especially in the face and eyes, was to get a pair of stinky, old moccasins and look into them with the eyes wide open. The odor was said to cleanse the eyes.
The turtle represents the Earth and its creation. The turtle’s legs represent the Four Old Men. The shell represents mountains and rivers.
Birch was used most commonly as a building material. These shrubs are used ceremonially to construct the “shades” or brush shelters which most families stay in as they camp around the Sun Dance lodge.
In Arapaho stories this wood is used for building a sweat lodge that would resist attack by buffalo. The buffalo broke other types of wood, but they were unable to break this “hard and strong” wood and were defeated. Is it said that whenever the buffalos butted the lodge, this particular wood would stick into the buffalo, thus forming the spots on the red bark of the wood.
As a medicine, the bark is used for a tea to help the stomach, or as a general tonic to be drank when one was feeling sick or generally in need of a boost. The bark can also be dried and then used to make a decoction in which sore feet could be soaked.
The Arapaho collect wild blueberries and eat them fresh. They can also be used to make sauces, jellies, and dye.
Buffalos ate buffalo grass. It covered most of the planes and was the most common grass on the western planes.
Chokecherry berries are the most important of all berries to the Arapaho. They are eaten fresh or made into gravy, which can be eaten plain, added to other dishes, or added to dried meat and lard to make pemmican.
The basic preparation method is to grind them on a stone, including the seeds (though in modern times the seeds are often removed), and then form them into patties, which take about a week to dry. Whenever gravy, pemmican or another dish is needed, the dried patties are available. These patties can be kept indefinitely.
A tea made form the bark of chokecherries is anti-diarrheic. The name literally refers to “choking” or “plugging” people up when they have diarrhea.
Chokecherry berries are used ceremonially during the Sun Dance.
Cottonwood trees are the most symbolically powerful trees within traditional Arapaho thought. They are used as a ceremonial building material, for sweat lodges and the Sun Dance Lodge.
Cottonwood inner bark can be fed to horses for winter food, and also eaten by humans in times of famine. The bark was also used in old-time tobacco mixtures.
The wood in general is used for fuel, and dry, pithy cottonwood is used for tinder in starting fires. It is still the preferred fuel wood for sweat lodge fires.
The large knots of the trees were used for making bowls.
The berries of currants, or gooseberries, are can be pounded, dried and preserved, as well as eaten fresh. Sauces and gravy are often made from currant berries.
Fir and spruce trees are used in incense mixtures with the sacred medicine bags.
The trees are also used for “smudging,” which is grinding the needles as ceremonial incense. Branches that are brown and infected with a form of fungus, but with the needles still on the branch, are primarily sought, and this condition seems more important than the particular species of the tree. The trees were used medicinally in many variations.
Hawthorn berries can be eaten, but are also used in personal medicine bags. The berries are also connected to myths of the Thunderbird.
Juniper is used mainly as a medicine for the treatment of colds, respiratory congestion, coughs, and sore throats. Placing a blanket or towel over boiling needles and inhaling the steam relieves congestion.
A tea to treat coughs and sore throats is made by boiling the berries, and is also used as a gastrointestinal aid.
Juniper is also used as ceremonial incense. Grinding juniper needles for their scent, known as “smuding” or “cedaring,” is a ritual purification. It is also used to scare away ghosts, as well as for purification after burials. The plant’s leaves and needles are also burned as a disinfectant.
The fruit can be eaten fresh, but it also crushed, formed into patties, and dried. Sauces and gravy can be made from the dried patties.
Plums are also used as decorative items, and for toys and games. The pits are attached to bags in order to represent burrs stuck in the hair of a buffalo. They are also used as dice.
Ponderosa Pine wood is used for various implements. The sap is used in various ways. It was chewed much like a gum. It is also used to make whistles by making a ball out of the sap and putting it in the inside of a whistle to make the whistle sound.
Arapahos eat rose petals to promote wellness, and also use the plant as a medicinal tonic.
The bark is used to make a tea that was used as a stomach medicine. The bark is scraped off, dried, and then boiled. It is used to flush out the intestines.
The plants roots are used to make an orange dye. The stalks of the plant are collected in winter, stripped of thorns, and used to make arrows.
The rose bush is said to have been the first plant on earth. It was used as a motif carved onto one of the four sacred sticks associated with the sacred pipe. It was used to construct the Sacred Wheel, which was a key religious symbol and element of the Sun Dance.
Sagebrush is used for many medicinal purposes. It can be boiled and used for asthma and colds, perhaps by means of an herbal steam bath. It can also be snuffed for headaches, and a sagebrush tea is drunk for indigestion. To help external sores it is boiled and then applied to the wound.
Sagebrush is also used as a hemostat and/or anti-hemorrhagic. It is rubbed, and then breathed up the nose to stop nosebleeds. Alternately, part of the plant can be stuck in the nose.
Many people carry sagebrush for luck and protection. They keep it in their purse or wallet, and bring it with them on trips. Sagebrush is placed in pillows, to avoid seeing ghosts while sleeping. Men working on the Arapaho Ranch often did this, as the ranch is notorious for ghost sightings.
Sagebrush is also used as a ceremonial item, often for “smudging” (grinding needles for incense) and for making tea. It is widely used today in ceremonies such as the Sun Dance and in the Crazy Lodge ceremony.
The leaves of sagebrush can also be used to make green dye.
Skunk brush berries were mixed with other ingredients to add flavoring in sauces, spices, jellies or gravy. The berries were normally pounded and then dried. They could be saved for long periods of time in sacks. When the gravy was wanted, they were boiled and flour was added. In earlier Reservation times, jelly was made with these berries as well, using store-bought thickening agents.
Fir and spruce trees are used in incense mixtures with the sacred medicine bags. The trees are also used for “smudging,” which is grinding the needles as ceremonial incense. Branches that are brown and infected with a form of fungus, but with the needles still on the branch, are primarily sought, and this condition seems more important than the particular species of the tree.
The trees were used medicinally in many variations.
Sweet grass has many ceremonially uses. During ceremonies, it is burned as incense and used in certain foods. It is also carried as a good luck charm.
Willow was often used for furniture, including “cages” in which children were transported. They were also used to frame cradles, and to frame the structure of sweat lodges. Backrests used inside tipis were also made of willow.
Willow baskets were woven, and sometimes used for dice playing. Many small tools were made from willow, as well as arrows.
As a medicine, the bark of the willow can be used “like aspirin.”
Willows are used in the Sun Dance altar. They are also represented in decorative motifs on parfleches and rawhide bars. The ceremonial lance of the biitohoowu’ age-grade ceremony was made of willow.
Yarrow is used medicinally to stop bleeding and hemorrhages.
Yucca leaves were used for tattooing. The plant was also used for starting fires, as a fire drill.